To understand the war in Ukraine, you have understand the events that led up to it. And no preceding event is more important than the toppling of Viktor Yanukovych’s government in February of 2014.
Officially known as the ‘Revolution of Dignity’, it was denounced by Vladimir Putin as an “unconstitutional coup”. And while most Western media stick to the official nomenclature, some prominent voices dissent. John Mearsheimer has referred to “the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president”, while George Friedman has described what happened as “the most blatant coup in history”.
A recap of the basic facts is in order.
In November of 2013, Yanukovych’s government suspended plans for signing an Association Agreement with the EU, and decided to renew talks with Russia. This decision sparked protests in Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev. By December, the number of protestors had reached the tens of thousands, and a permanent encampment had been established on Maidan square. Although most of the protesters were ordinary Ukrainians, far-right groups were also present.
Beginning in December, there were violent clashes between protesters and the police. On 23rd January, protestors succeeded in occupying various buildings around Maidan square. The situation came to a head on 18–20th February when protestors were fired upon by snipers, leaving scores dead and hundreds wounded. A dozen police offers were also killed in the clashes. From November 2013 to February 2014, 112 protestors and 18 police officers lost their lives; though most of the killings happened on 20th February.
On 21st February, Yanukovych signed an agreement with the parliamentary opposition calling for reforms and new elections. But the next day, he was impeached by the Ukrainian parliament. This impeachment process was in several respects unconstitutional, and Yanukovych declared he was still “the legitimate head of the Ukrainian state elected in a free vote by Ukrainian citizens”. However, he subsequently fled to Russia and a new government was formed.
The ‘Revolution of Dignity’ led immediately to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the outbreak of civil war in Donbas – so its geopolitical importance can hardly be overstated. Yet despite huge international attention, one question remains shrouded in mystery: who ordered snipers to fire at protestors on 18–20th February?
The ‘official’ narrative is that the snipers were from the Berkut – a special police unit loyal to Yanukovych. On the other hand, Russia has long maintained they were deployed by the Ukrainian far-right as part of a false flag operation to bring down Yanukovych’s government.
What is true is that more than eight years after the massacre – which took place amid a giant demonstration at the centre of Ukraine’s capital in front of dozens of television cameras – not a single person has been convicted. The perpetrators of one of the deadliest mass shootings in European history remain at large.
Why don’t we have an answer? Well, perhaps we do.
Away from the limelight, one Canadian academic has been poring over the evidence for the last eight years. And he’s convinced the ‘official’ narrative is wrong. Ivan Katchanovski (a political scientist at the University of Ottawa) believes the Maidan massacre was a false flag operation carried out by the Ukrainian far-right.
Professor Katchanovski cannot be dismissed as some fringe commenter or stooge of the Kremlin. He has published his arguments in scholarly books and journals, and has presented them at academic conferences. His latest article, which can be accessed for free, reviews all the evidence he’s collected to date – including witness testimonies, weapon ballistics and medical forensics. It’s based on hundreds of hours of footage of the Maidan massacre trials, as well as synchronised video segments of the massacre itself.
As Katchanovski explains, the ‘false flag theory’ first gained credence in March of 2014, when a phone call between two European officials was leaked online. During the call, the Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet tells the EU’s Catherine Ashton about a conversation he’d had with someone called Olga:
What was quite disturbing, the same Olga told, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides among policemen and then people from the streets – that they were the same snipers, killing people from both sides. She also showed me some photos. She said that as medical doctor, she can, you know, say that it is the same handwriting, same type of bullets. And it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. So that there is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych but it was somebody from the new coalition.
‘Olga’ was later identified as Olga Bohomolets, a doctor who had treated wounded protestors on Maidan square. When quizzed by the press, she said she had not told Paet that somebody from the new coalition was behind the snipers. Likewise, the Estonian Foreign Ministry said, “We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence” (though they acknowledged the recording was authentic). It is still unclear why Paet would divulge such shocking revelations if he did not believe they had some basis in fact.
Aside from TV recordings and media reports, much of Katchanovski’s evidence comes from the trials of five Berkut police officers, who were charged with the murder of protestors on 20th February, 2014. Various other state actors, including Yanukovych himself, were also charged, but they were not brought to trial as they had already fled the country. (Recall that none of those put on trial were convicted.)
What, then, is Katchanovski’s evidence?
The majority of wounded protestors who testified at the trail said they were shot by snipers from Maidan-controlled buildings. Remarkably, even many witnesses for the prosecution said this. Their testimony is consistent with video footage of journalists and protestors pointing to snipers in buildings like the Hotel Ukraine, which were under Maidan control at the time.
Police snipers testified that they had been ordered to locate and neutralise snipers firing from Maidan-controlled buildings. And Yanukovych himself, who appeared at the trial via video-link, testified that he had received reports of snipers firing from those buildings.
Several Georgian ex-military personnel who testified at the trail actually confessed they were among the snipers, and had been given orders by specific Maidan leaders to fire upon the protestors. They also testified that they had witnessed other snipers shooting from Maidan-controlled buildings. By contrast, no police officers or other state actors confessed to having fired upon protestors.
In the majority of cases where wounded protestors testified that they had been shot by snipers from police-controlled areas, other evidence contradicted their testimony. For example, synchronized video segments showed the exact times they were hit did not coincide with the exact times police officers were discharging their weapons. Other videos showed that several protesters were killed before police officers had even taken up their positions.
Forensic examinations by government experts revealed that the majority of protestors were shot from the side or back, and from top to bottom, strongly suggesting they had been hit by snipers from Maidan-controlled buildings. Only one protestor had a horizontal entry wound. Experts also determined that several protestors were killed by bullets that did not match those used by the police.
An American architecture company created a 3D model of the killing of three protestors, which was used as evidence that those protestors were in fact killed by the police. (This 3D model was covered in a 2018 New York Times article.) However, the wound locations in the model did not match the wound locations from forensic medical examinations.
Aside from what Katchanovski calls “overwhelming evidence” that protestors were shot from Maidan-controlled buildings, he believes there was a cover-up by the post-Maidan authorities.
On 21st February, the Ukrainian parliament passed an amnesty law granting blanket immunity to Maidan protestors for serious crimes that had taken place during the protests. This law also prohibited investigation of the protestors for such crimes, and ordered that existing evidence be destroyed.
Two of the Berkut police officers who had been charged with murdering protestors were released by trial judges due to lack of evidence, suggesting the charges against them were trumped up. And all remaining defendants were released in a prisoner exchange within several months of the expected verdict.
Public statements made by various Maidan participants concerning the far-right’s involvement in the massacre were never investigated. One politician said she saw Maidan leaders bringing snipers into a building and then saw snipers firing from that building. Several activists said they witnessed snipers being evacuated by Maidan leaders. And another politician said that Maidan leaders had “arranged” the massacre.
There were unexplained reversals of testimony on the part of wounded Maidan protestors. Key pieces of evidence went missing or were destroyed. Several trees with bullet holes in them were cut down; all helmets and shields used by those who were shot disappeared, as did security camera footage from Maidan-controlled buildings.
Finally, two far-right politicians stated in separate interviews that a Western government official told them killings of a few protestors would not be enough for Western governments to stop recognising Yanukovych, and for that to happen the number of victims would need to be 100. The protesters who lost their lives subsequently became known as the “Heavenly Hundred”, even though some of those ‘hundred’ were not killed in the massacre itself (and in fact simply died of illness.)
On the basis of all the evidence he’s gathered, Katchanovski concludes that the Maidan massacre was “a false flag operation” which involved “elements of the Maidan leadership”.
If true, the implications are immense. It would mean the event that marked the turning point of Euromaidan – that set in motion Yanukovych’s removal from power – was in fact orchestrated by his political opponents. And aside from implicating those individuals in a brutal act of mass murder, it would remove any doubt that the that the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ was illegitimate.
Is it true?
I have been unable to track down any serious criticism of Katchanovski’s work, and when I reached out to him, he told me “there is no other scholarly study” that disputes his findings. What’s more, the political scientist Gordon Hahn reached similar conclusions in his book Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West and the “New Cold War”.
So why haven’t Western governments shown more interest in investigating the massacre? I put this question to Katchanovski. He said that such an investigation would be “politically inconvenient” because it would “upend the narrative that the Western backed overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 by the pro-Western Maidan opposition was peaceful and democratic”. He added that a definitive answer could be obtained by consulting relevant documents once they are declassified.
As I mentioned above, Katchanovski has published his arguments concerning the ‘false flag theory’ in scholarly books and journals, and has presented them at academic conferences. All the germane papers are available for free online. You might therefore expect for his work to have received significant media attention – particularly in the last few months.
Yet with the exception of a few ‘non-mainstream’ outlets, it hasn’t. Major Western media have ignored his studies “for political reasons”, he told me. This is despite the fact that Katchanovski’s other work on Ukraine (unrelated to the massacre) has received ample media attention, including from the Associated Press, Reuters and the Washington Post.
Katchanovski knows that certain media outlets are aware of his work because he’s brought it to their attention. Following the New York Times article on the 3D model of killings at Maidan, he sent a letter to the editor pointing out they had “misrepresented the wound locations”. But his letter wasn’t published. In another case, “Open Democracy accepted a popular version of my Maidan massacre study, but then did not publish it.” Katchanovski said he gave “long interviews concerning the Maidan massacre to several major TV and Radio networks” but “none of them were broadcast”. In every single case “there was no reason given”.
The only time Katchanovski’s work on the massacre has been put under the spotlight was in Oliver Stone’s 2019 documentary Revealing Ukraine. This film is available on Rumble, and the relevant segment begins at 20:00.
What about everything that’s happened since? In our email exchange, Katchanovski clarified that the Maidan massacre “does not justify the Russian invasion and other actions in Ukraine”. Equally, however, Russia’s invasion does not justify ignoring – in his words – “overwhelming and undeniable evidence” of Maidan snipers.
If others believe that Katchanovski is mistaken, they must come forward and present their arguments. In the meantime, I would strongly recommend reading his papers: they make a compelling case that what’s been labelled a “conspiracy theory” is, in fact, true.